Elijah is taken up to heaven
2 Kings 1:1-18 During the final years of his reign, the ageing King Ahab appoints his son Ahaziah as co-regent. Ahaziah is badly injured after falling from the window of an upper room in the palace at Samaria. He sends messengers to consult Baal-Zebub (the ‘Lord of the flies’), the Philistine god of Ekron (see 16 on Map 58) to see if he will recover. The messengers meet Elijah, who prophesies that Ahaziah will not recover because he has turned away from the LORD. Ahaziah dies and his brother Jehoram (shortened to ‘Joram’ in 2 Kings) becomes co-regent.
2 Kings 2:1-18 Elijah is nearing the end of his life. In c.853BC, he sets off from Gilgal with Elisha and visits the prophets at Bethel and Jericho. Elijah then strikes the River Jordan with his cloak and the water divides so the two men can cross over. As they climb away from the riverbank, Elijah is taken up to heaven by a whirlwind in a chariot of fire (see 17 on Map 58).
Elisha crosses back over the Jordan to Jericho where he purifies the spring water. He visits Bethel and Mt Carmel before returning to Samaria.
Tell Mar Elias (Elijah's Hill) near Bethany beyond the Jordan
The hill to the east of the River Jordan opposite Jericho – believed to be the site from which Elijah was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire – is known in Arabic as Tell Mar Elias (‘Elijah’s Hill’). Elijah’s dramatic departure is celebrated in the American gospel song ‘Swing low, sweet chariot’.
Visitors to Elijah’s Hill (see 17 on Map 58) can examine the excavated remains of a large 7th century Byzantine church built to commemorate the life of the Prophet Elijah.
Nearby, where Elijah parted the River Jordan with his cloak, is the site of Bethany beyond the Jordan. Here, John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the ‘promised Elijah’ (see Malachi 4:5) by baptising Jesus in the River Jordan and proclaiming his coming as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
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